3 Days in Athens – The Must-see Guide
So, you are visiting Athens for only a few days, and you are a bit overwhelmed of what to do and see first, something making complete sense as you probably want to see as much as possible. The Greek capital mixes historical sites, byzantine churches and lovely neoclassical buildings with modern life and vivid street-art and there is a lot to see and do. Even though it is impossible to get the true vibe of any city in a few days, here are a few suggestions on how to make the most of 3 days in Athens!
Where to Stay and How to Get Around
Before booking a hotel for your trip, you need to keep in mind the proximity from your hotel to all the things you need to see. As most shops, restaurants, bars and archaeological museums and sites are in the city center and historical center of Athens, you might consider booking a hotel in central areas, like Thiseio, Syntagma, Monastiraki, and Plaka which is lovely. Finding central accommodation will save you both time and energy.
Getting around Athens is quite easy, as you have many public transportation options. The metro system and ISAP trains alone have stops in the most must-see areas and frequent trains every 2-10 minutes. Additionally, Athens has trams, trolleys, buses, suburban railway and taxis which are relatively cheap. Consider a car only if you want to go on trips outside Athens, as the center has a bad traffic problem and you may find it difficult to park your vehicle.
You can purchase the 3-day tourist ticket as soon as you reach Athens, which costs 22,00€ and includes pass to all means of public transport, as well as a one-way trip from/to the airport by metro or “express X” bus.
Morning Visit to Acropolis Hill and Coffee Break in Hip Koukaki
Start your Athens experience with the ultimate must-see, the Acropolis. The archaeological site is open from 08.00 to 20.00, but the sooner you get there, the better, as you will avoid both the many groups of people that show up later in the day but also the midday Greek sun (if you visit Athens during summer), making your visit much more enjoyable. Your visit on the Acropolis Hill should take around 1-2 hours, but this really depends on how much time you want to spend on the site and your passion for archaeology, classical architecture and philosophy, so I leave this up to your own judgment! Personally, I like getting lost in my thoughts of Ancient Athenian magnitude and imperialism while watching my beloved Athens from above.
The full-price ticket costs 20,00€ (reduced, 10,00€) and is valid for the Acropolis Hill and its slopes. If you plan to visit more of the archaeological sites in Athens, then you should consider the 5-day pass of 30,00€ (reduced 15,00€). This includes entrance to most of the archaeological sites of the city center, like the cemetery of Kerameikos, the Ancient and Roman Agora, the Olympieio (Temple of Olympian Zeus), Hadrian’s Library and the slopes of the Acropolis Hill.
After your visit to the Acropolis, continue to the Acropolis Museum, rated as one of the top museums in the world. The museum itself is exceptionally well designed, with high glass ceilings, nice views and glass floors that look down to ancient ruins. Take your time without rush to check out all the floors, the permanent exhibition, events and temporary exhibitions. In the museum you will find what has remained in Greece from the amazing Parthenon sculptural decoration (on the top floor), like the friezes and pediments, as well as artifacts found in and around the Acropolis and the slopes, including pottery, figurines and statues.
If you have gotten a little peckish, have a small lunch to keep you going without stuffing you up too much. You can either have a light snack at the Acropolis Museum Café, or in one of the many cafés, bakeries, souvlaki places around the Acropolis Museum.
Around the Acropolis there are a few additional places you may want to see like the 6th century BC Theatre of Dionysus, the Roman Odeon of Herodes Atticus, which nowadays hosts various events and Philopappou Hill, where you can listen to stories of gods and legends while enjoying a glass of wine in our Boudoir of the Gods Tour.
In this area you can also find the GH Attikos Restaurant, a very cozy place, with good quality Greek dishes and a view to the Acropolis. Once you leave Philopappou Hill, take Drakou street to reach Koukaki, one of Athens’ hippest neighborhoods, with its popularity rising as it was listed in the top 20 neighborhoods in the world to stay by Airbnb. The two main pedestrian streets which connect Veikou and Syggrou, are filled with trees, cafés, shops and restaurants waiting to be explored!
If you are a fan of Modern Art then you must visit the National Museum of Contemporary Art, located in the old Fix distillery building. The museum was established back in 2000, but with renovations taking up more time than expected, it hosted its first exhibition in 2016, followed by documenta14 in 2017.
Afternoon Stroll in Picturesque Plaka
If you want to continue with ancient Greek attractions, take a right on Dionysiou Aeropagitou as you are facing the Acropolis Hill and head to the Olympieio, the remains of the ancient Temple of Zeus. The construction of the monumental temple was initiated in 515BC but was completed only in 174BC! In front of the archaeological site of Olympeio stands Hadrian’s Arch, built in 131-132 AD in honor of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. You might also consider joining our Unconventional Photo Tour, a creative way of visiting these monuments (and more)!
Afterwards, it is time to relax your mind a little bit in the stunning neighborhood of Plaka. Go and have a nice walk, check out and purchase some nice souvenirs and jewellery, eat tasty food and enjoy the afternoon. You can check out our article on Plaka for more detailed suggestions on what to do. Make a quick visit to Roman Agora in Plaka, constructed as a succession to the original Agora including many buildings of historical interest, like the Tower of the Winds, the Agoranomion, the Gate of Athena Archegetis and the Fethiye Djami (mosque).
Bar Crawling in Metaxourgeio
Go back to your hotel to rest a little bit, shower and get ready for your evening out. On your first night out, I would suggest Metaksourgeio/Kerameikos area, at least for a start. Here you can find many mezedopoleia, serving drinks and appetizers, as well as bars, music venues and interesting street-food options, like souvlakis, burritos and falafels. To get to Metaksourgeio, take the blue Metro line and stop at the Kerameikos station. When exiting metro station to a big square, take a left to Iakchou street as you face the Technopolis Venue (you will see the big industrial chimneys) and continue straight to Leonidou Street, after crossing Iera Odos Avenue. For afterhours clubbing, you can head back to Gkazi Square (metro station of Kerameikos) to one of the many clubs found there. Alternatively you can check a few nightlife alternatives here.
Change of Guards at Syntagma and Visit to the National Gardens of Athens
Have your breakfast and head to the Syntagma Square. Syntagma is busy and is generally considered the central point of Athens and the main transport hub (both metro lines will take you there, as well as many buses). You will see the Greek Parliament and the War Memorial of the Unknown Soldier, dedicated to all the soldiers who died during the wars. Don’t miss the Changing of Guard Ceremony which takes place every hour in front of the Parliament. The Guards wear the uniform of an evzone/tsolias, considered the traditional Greek uniform. While they change their shifts, they perform a perfectly synchronized ceremonial walk, which attracts many tourists and locals.
Have a take-away coffee from the coffee stores of Syntagma and continue to the National Gardens, which are on the right of the Parliament. Here you can have a nice peaceful walk in the middle of more than 500 different plant species and a few animals, like peacocks, ducks and goats. If you have little kids with you, I suggest you participate in our Feast of Fables Tour, where your family will join a picnic treasure hunt while listening to stories of Aesop!
Crossing the National Gardens and the Zappeio Megaro, you will reach Vasileos Konstantinou Avenue and the Panathenaic Stadium or Kallimarmaro. This impressive stadium made entirely from marble hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896! Kallimarmaro was first built in 338 BC to host the Panathenaic Games, with renovations by Herodes Atticus in 144 BC. Ancient Olympic Games were never hosted in this stadium, in fact, they were never hosted in Athens, but in Olympia. In antiquity, Athens had its own games, the Panathenaic Games.
Shopping in Monastiraki and Exploring the Alternative Psyrri and Exarcheia Neighborhoods
Now it is time to check what the Athenian market has to offer you and maybe purchase a few things! Head back to Syntagma Square and start walking down Ermou Street. Here you will find most of the popular clothing stores, shoes and accessories and is one of the main shopping hubs of Athens and is usually busy. You may consider getting a frozen yogurt or an ice-cream from the many frozen yogurt shops, like Yiaourtaki (Ermou 82).
Going straight down all the way of Ermou Street you will reach Monastiraki and the Monastiraki Flea Market, where you can find all kinds of goodies, including souvenirs! Be extra careful of personal belongings, as unfortunately this area is notorious for its pickpockets. From Monastiraki you can also visit the Ancient Agora and the Museum of Ancient Agora, both included on the 30,00€ Acropolis ticket. I highly recommend you to do so, even just for a little bit, as the museum is really interesting and the archaeological site itself is quite frankly a nice walk among the ancient ruins.
On the other side of Ermou, opposite Monastiraki Square, is Psyrri, one of the oldest neighborhoods of Athens. Get lost in its many small pedestrian streets, filled with shops, cafés, bars and enjoy a cold beer in Barrett, an all-day alternative rock bar.
Have a quick filling bite, a few suggestions are listed in our 10 Best Street Food Spots in Athens article. In Athinas Street is the Varvakeios Agora, the central market. Here you can find some top-quality Greek products, like herbs, spices, olives, fruits and vegetables. Want to try some? Join our Get a Taste of Athens Food Tour!
Take the ISAP train (green metro line) to Victoria station, in order to head to the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, house of some of the most important Greek archaeological artifacts. When you reach Victoria station, go straight to Cheiden Street and take a right on 28is Oktovriou. The National Archaeological Museum is less than 5 minutes away. Take your time to check out all rooms, temporary and permanent exhibitions, as the Museum houses more than 11.000 exhibits starting from the Neolithic Period.
Next stop is Exarcheia, starting from just behind the National Archaeological Museum, a somewhat alternative, artistic and student neighborhood. In the streets of Exarcheia, you will come across some amazing street art, many second-hand stops, vinyl record stores and bookstores. Take your time to explore the area and have a coffee or a beer in the many coffee-bars found here.
Evening Drinks in Downtown Athens
As the day was busy, consider relaxing with a movie in one of the many (around 600!) open-air cinemas in Athens, a much-loved summer tradition. These outdoors cinemas have usually a nice view and are perfect to enjoy the night sky. Some outdoors cinemas suggestions are Cine Paris, Cine Thisseion, Cine Flisvos by the Palaio Faliro beach and Cine Dexameni.
After the movie head to one of the best rooftop bars in Athens, to enjoy a refreshing cocktail with a spectacular Acropolis View.
A good alternative is also Agias Eirinis Square, near Monastiraki on Aiolou street. Around the church of Saint Eirini, the most popular square of Athens, you will find the place to be for brunch and coffee, food, cocktails, dancing, you name it. You have quite a number of alternatives to chose from, like the romantic and fairy-tale-like Noel, the incredible menu of Mama Roux -those enchiladas...- , Tailor Made for cocktails and DJ sets, Throubi if you want to chill in the square and the Dude Bar for dancing!
Souvlaki Kosta on the square has made whole Athens talk about the red sauce he uses, but unfortunately it closes at 18.00. If you fancy a quick bite try Food Str, with delicious burgers, while for your sweet tooth you must have traditional Greek Lukumades with all kinds of yummy toppings.
A Visit to Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre (SNFCC)
Start your day by visiting the Onassis Cultural Centre in Syngrou Avenue for interesting visual art exhibitions and activities, among others. Alternatively, go straight to Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre in Faliro, near the sea coast, which is open to visitors from 09.00 in the morning. The cultural center is not only located in a nice area, but also the architecture of the building complex and its surrounding garden and leisure areas are a perfect way to enjoy your last morning in Athens. You will find running tracks, outdoors gym, playgrounds, food trucks, canals and beautiful gardens, while you will also have the chance to find out about the ongoing projects of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, visit the exhibitions and discover its events and activities. Enjoy coffee and breakfast in the amazing food alternatives, like Agora Bistro, Canal Café and the amazing Pharos Café with a stunning view! SNFCC has shuttle buses from Syntagma Square frequently that will take you directly there free of charge. Alternatively, all the possible options are explained in detail on SNFCC's How to Get There webpage.
Before continuing to your next stop, explore a little bit the area of Faliro. Right opposite SNFCC across the avenue, is the Marina Flisvos Park. Here you can find yachts and cruise ships parked, an entertainment center, restaurants and cafés as well as the Averof Ship Museum, an armored cruiser built in the first decade of the 20th century in Italy serving as a Greek flagship.
Combining Beaches with History: Vouliagmeni and Temple of Poseidon
There are available buses and the tram following the Coastal Avenue, which will take you to your next stop, Vouliagmeni. There are many beaches around, like Akti Vouliagmenis (5 euros entrance fee), Asteras Vouliagmenis (8 euros entrance fee) and Yabanaki (7 euros entrance fee). Astir Beach Club is a bit more expensive, with 28 euros entrance fee on weekends and 18 on weekdays, however the waters are clean and deep, while there are also available luxury sun chairs, massage therapists, yoga on the beach, volleyball nets, water sport activities and restaurants. Outside the Astir Beach Hotel, you will see the ruins of the 6th century BC temple of Apollo Zoster. According to Greek mythology when Leto was about to give birth to Apollo and Artemis, she was in so much pain that she fled to the sacred island of Delos. On her way she lost her girdle, which later her son Apollo retrieved on this spot.
Another attraction worth visiting are the Vouliagmeni Lake hot springs, a rare geological phenomenon, with labyrinthine underwater tunnels and water temperature staying at about 24ºCelsius all year. Apart from the healing properties of these natural thermal springs, the visitor can also enjoy leisure and sport activities, like aqua aerobic and snorkeling, all this under pine trees looking up at the impressive rock formations.
From here, continue your trip to the Temple of Poseidon in Sounio and enjoy a spectacular view to the Aegean Sea. The local bus (KTEL) goes every hour to Sounio and the ticket costs 5 euros. You will take it from either Vouliagmeni Square stop or Vouliagmeni Lake. All stops are listed here. Keep in mind that the last bus to Sounio departs from central Athens at 17.00, and the last bus back is at 20.00. Alternatively, you can go to Sounio by car.
Sunset with a Mesmerizing View at Sounio
Cape Sounio is located in the southernmost point of the Attica peninsula and it is mostly known for the Temple of Poseidon and the incredible view of the sunset between the temple ruins right across the Aegean Sea. The temple was originally built in 7th-6th century BC but is believed to have been destroyed in 480BC by the Persian troops led by Xerxes. The temple visible today was built in 444-440 BC. If you look closely at the temple columns, you can see a few carved graffiti-like names and tags on them, some of them being carved a century ago. One of them belongs to Lord Byron himself! In the archaeological site of Sounio, there are also the archaeological remains of the ancient settlement, the fortifications, the dock and ship sheds and the Temple of Athena.
According to Greek mythology it was in Cape Sounio that Athenian King Aegeus killed himself, giving his name to the Aegean Sea. The myth states that before Aegeus’ son, Theseus, left for Crete on a mission to kill the Minotaur, Aegeus asked him to change the black sails of his ship if he was successful on his quest or for his crew to leave them black in case he was killed. Theseus did indeed successfully kill the Minotaur but forgot to change the sails upon his return. Aegeus, who was waiting for him in Cape Sounio after seeing the black sails believed that his son died and decided to jump off the cliff.
After watching the sunset from Sounio you probably are starving so it is time to get something to eat. There are a lot of fish tavernas in Sounio, but if you need to catch the 20.00 bus you most likely do not have enough time. If you have a car and time is not your enemy, then these are good options. Alternatively, head to back to Athens with the public bus and go and enjoy a delicious last souvlaki (for this time anyway!). 😊
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Words: Saima Androutsopoulou